Raw, harrowing, confrontational, but also quite beautiful, Past Life Martyred Saints by EMA was one of the artistic highlights of 2011. Its creator, Erika M. Anderson (formerly of the psych-folk band Gowns), is a 6-foot blonde who grew up in South Dakota, migrated to Los Angeles, then started hanging around Portland, Oregon. The Pitch recently had a pleasant conversation with Anderson, made somewhat uncomfortable only by the obviousness of the fact that we have a huge crush on her.
The Pitch: So you're gearing up for another tour right now. How many people are you bringing along?
Anderson: Yeah, this will probably be the last headlining tour on this record, I think. We were just discussing that. Probably take some time after this tour to try and write some more stuff. There's four of us doing the tour.
I found myself trying to describe EMA to someone the other day, and I ended up just saying you were kind of like PJ Harvey. Then I felt really lame about it because I was comparing you with another female performer. Do you find that those reductive gender comparisons happen a lot?
Of course, yeah, that happens all the time. I don't know, I guess it's just funny. People have a hard time — you know, I think PJ Harvey is great. So some of those comparisons are really nice, but I don't know how accurate they are when it comes to the actual sonics of what I do. And a lot of people — maybe not music journalists but a lot of people — can only name maybe five female rock artists. So it becomes like, Does she sound like Cat Power or PJ Harvey?
Were there female musicians or other female artists whom you were exposed to growing up who made you think you could do rock music?
Oh, totally: Babes in Toyland, Hole, Bikini Kill, Sleater Kinney, PJ Harvey, Cat Power. All five of the female rock musicians most people can name. [Laughs.]
Was there Riot Grrrl in South Dakota?
Not really. But I was maybe one of the only — a bunch of boys used to call me Riot Girl. So maybe I was South Dakota's lone Riot Grrrl for a while.
You're playing bigger venues now, and the record has been well-reviewed. What do you think helped put you over the top?
Well, I mean, I started working with kind of a proper label [Souterrain Transmissions]. It's still an indie, so it's not like Warner Bros. or anything, but it helps to have people working with you who aren't just, you know, mailing things out from their house or whatever.
Was there a moment when you felt like you had started to break through with larger audiences?
It's hard for me to think about where I sit as far as how well known I am, you know? It's hard for me to think about, and I probably try not to think about it too much. But there were a couple things. The first time through New York, we sold out two shows in one day. Selling out shows in New York and London was pretty cool.
Will you do the next release on Souterrain?
Probably, at least over in Europe. This is the first record they'd released in the U.S., and in some ways, it makes a lot of sense to do global stuff. And I tend to do better in Europe than in the States.
Gowns also seemed like maybe it was bigger in Europe. Why do you think that is?
Yeah, I don't know. They're more into arty shit over there, maybe? I don't want to diss on America or anything. [Laughs.]
Cool. Well, I guess that's all I've got for you.
I'll tell you one thing. The first time I ate a fish burrito was when my friend and I got really drunk at a Rasputina concert in Kansas City. We met this weird goth guy who wore too much Drakkar Noir, and we were pretty wasted and we went to some drive-thru fish-taco and burrito place.
I don't know, maybe. It was life-changing. I still remember that burrito. It was, like, 10 years ago. So that's my Kansas City story.